This is a post that was requested by someone brand new to paleo who was looking for more advice than just recipes. Once I thought about it, paleo starts way before the kitchen; it starts in the grocery store. This can be tricky for many people. It’s not quite as simple as the “stick to the perimeter of the store” advice I have seen everywhere recently, though I won’t deny it is still great overall advice.
That being said, I have to admit that one of the most important things (at least in my house) to eating healthy is painfully simple: don’t keep crappy food in your house. If it isn’t there, you won’t eat it. I don’t really know how to dumb it down any more than that! I learned this lesson in a serious way when I started living with TJ. As I have mentioned, I don’t really have a sweet tooth. If I crave a cookie, I will eat a cookie. “A” meaning one. TJ on the other hand will eat all of them. Yes, I said all of them. It’s slightly annoying when I have a bar of dark chocolate in my freezer that should last me a month because I only take tiny nibbles of it, only to find the entire thing gone the night after I bought it because TJ ate it all. It’s even more annoying that he can eat 24 cookies in one sitting or a whole bar of chocolate in one night and still has like 5% body fat, but that’s a whole different discussion. Moral of the story: I don’t buy “crappy” foods. It’s as bad for our bodies as it is for my wallet.
So where do you start? With your grocery shopping, of course. Where should you shop? How should you shop? How often should you shop? What should you buy? What should you avoid? It can be slightly overwhelming at first, but I will break down my shopping habits, tips and tricks for you to at least give you a starting point.
First, I will start with the “where.” Where do I grocery shop? Wherever the hell I can. Do I buy all of my food at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s? Hell no. I don’t have the time or money for that. If you do then more power to you, but I just can’t justify it. I drive for work. I am all over the place most of the time. When I need to grocery shop, I find the closest grocery store. The stores I frequent the most are Safeway, Giant and Shop Rite because they are near my house. Plus Giant and Safeway offer gas points, and why would I turn down free or discounted gas? Of course, many paleo recipes require off the wall or ingredients (like arrowroot powder or coconut oil) that can’t be found at your regular grocery store, but that’s kind of the point of this blog (in case you missed that, I go over all of that in the About section of this website). For the most part, I don’t really use off the wall ingredients like that. Sorry, but I am not making a special trip to Whole Foods for 1 or 2 ingredients. I can do without that recipe (or I can modify it to make sense for me). I do have things like coconut oil and avocado and sesame oil in my house, but do you know where I got them? Homegoods. Which means they were also discounted. I could go on for a week about how amazing Homegoods is.. but this is a recipe blog. All I will say is that if you are not lucky to have a Homegoods near you; I am truly, deeply sorry.
I mentioned that I drive a lot for work and that I will grocery shop when and where it is convenient for me. That being said, I don’t grocery shop every day. That would just be stupid. This brings me to the “when.” For the most part, I grocery shop once a week. I try to get everything in one big trip. Obviously if I am missing something integral to a recipe (or if I just really want to make something and I didn’t buy it during my grocery run that week) I will grab it.. if it’s convenient for me. Otherwise, I wait until the next time I shop. Don’t over complicate it. You’ll end up spending too much time and money if you’re constantly running to the store for different things. Make it work for you and your lifestyle.
So on to the big one, the “how.” Yes, the advice of “stick to the perimeter” is great, but its unrealistic unless you want bland vegetables and unseasoned meat. Um, gross. I like flavor. I like spice. You won’t find the spice aisle in the perimeter of the store. Nor will you find the vinegar (I keep white distilled, apple cider, balsamic and red wine vinegar in my house pretty much at all times) there. You’re going to have to brave the dreaded center aisles of the store in order to get what you need (plus really, how else do you get your toothpaste and shampoo? I know that stuff isn’t located on the perimeter of the store). Do you need to go down the chips and candy aisle? Probably not. You can pretty much always avoid the soda and bottled water aisle unless you can’t live without soda or overpriced water that you can get from your tap for free (hint: you can absolutely live without both of those things). This becomes easier with time, and even easier if you’re lucky enough to go to the same store all the time. You’ll learn your store, you’ll learn what aisles you need and which ones you can avoid. The other plus of going to the same store all the time, at least in my experience with my local grocery stores, is that you’ll eventually start getting coupons for the things that you buy frequently. Which leads me to my next tip..
How much should you spend? To be blunt: who the hell am I to tell you that? You know your income, you know your budget, you know what you can and cannot spend. I have absolutely zero business telling you how to spend your money. That being said, there is a terrible misconception that eating paleo or healthy or fresh food is expensive. False. Constantly eating shitty and getting overweight and developing a never ending laundry list of health problems that you will pay for later in life is an expense I would much rather avoid. If you disagree with that.. well I’m not really sure what you’re doing reading this blog in the first place.. but like I said before, it’s your life and your body. Do what you want. I tried couponing. I quickly learned two things: 1. it is a full time job (sorry, I’ve already got one of those) and 2. it’s great if you’re looking to stockpile laundry detergent and dish soap and tampons and cereal and canned goods and cat food and pasta. Most coupons are for nonperishables. Of course I still clip coupons for paper towels and soap and toothbrushes and tampons, because saving a few dollars here and there is still better than not, right? Again, that’s pretty basic logic.
As I mentioned before, stores like Giant and Shop Rite start to learn/track your shopping patterns. You have to be a “member” or have a savings card, but those are free and easy to sign up for (and you can usually use your phone number if you forget your card), just make sure you use it every time you shop in order to have your buying tracked. Eventually, I started getting coupons at the register for $2 off my next deli purchase (no salt added deli meat is an awesome thing to keep in the fridge) or a free carton of eggs. In fact, just today I got a coupon for $3 off my next fresh meat purchase, and I usually get some kind of fresh produce coupon too. Normally these have a minimum, but it is usually pretty minimal (like $3 off of my next purchase of $15 of fresh meat). When I’m grocery shopping, I’m usually spending way more than $15 on meat anyways so it’s a no brainer. Another simple trick, buy what’s on sale. I don’t usually go to the store with a recipe and specific ingredients in mind. I see what vegetables are on sale that day/week. Kale and collard greens pre-washed bags are 2 for 5? Guess what we’re eating every night this week? I think this “buy what’s on sale” mentality is a huge reason why I started trying out recipes and cooking more. Nothing is good when it’s the same night after night, but a kale salad one night and kale chips the next and bacon and onion simmered collard greens the next helps keep things interesting. I realize that can be difficult for someone who isn’t a great cook, but its 2014 people. Google “paleo ____” (carrots, kale, broccoli, chicken). I promise you, you will find like 7,000 recipes by doing that. Some of the recipes you will find by doing that will be complicated or involve ingredients which you don’t have, which is why my blog is obviously the best place to start. I do my best to use fairly common, every day items that most people already have at home anyways.
My whole point is, you can still find ways to save yourself some money here and there, and it will pay off in more ways than one for years to come.
As for things that you should try to keep around (or at least what I generally have at home): tons of spices. I found a spice rack at Homegoods that came with 12 different spices, and came with free refills of the spices for life. All I pay for is the shipping and the spices offered on the site change frequently so I always get new stuff. Can’t really go wrong with that.. I always have both garlic powder and salt, onion salt, minced onion, paprika, turmeric, rosemary, cilantro, salt and pepper (duh), crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper and cumin. I have various other things in there from different recipes I’ve made like bay leaves and coriander and whole peppercorns, but those things just come with time and more cooking. As I mentioned, I also always have pretty much every kind of vinegar in my cabinet, extra virgin olive oil, hot sauce (I know there are tons of paleo versions out there, but Franks is pretty damn close to paleo if not actually paleo- so I use that), jars of minced and diced garlic, pickles, bacon (yes, real bacon. Sorry turkey bacon lovers, but if turkey can be mashed up, processed and made to look and “taste” like bacon, I’m pretty sure I don’t want it), lemons (or lemon juice), limes (or lime juice), onions, mustard (Dijon and yellow) and fresh garlic. This is just a vary basic list, but it’s stuff that lasts and that I use pretty frequently. Buy meat. Buy nuts. Buy vegetables. Buy some fruit. That’s it. It is really that simple if you just boil it down.
As for what to avoid: I cover this pretty basically in the About section on this site. It’s pretty simple: you want to avoid processed foods. Learn to read labels and learn to google words you don’t know (although, in general if it is an unpronounceable word, you probably don’t want to be putting it into your body). Avoid sugar, especially added sugars. That usually also encompasses words like “syrup,” “dextrose,” “dextrin,” “fructose,” “glucose,” “saccharose,” and many more. In general, your body can’t differentiate between sugar. Sugar is sugar. For more information on the stuff to avoid, there are tons of great sites out there that you can read more on. If you feel so compelled, here are some good ones:
Ok so this was an unintentionally, seriously long post. Sorry!
If anyone is looking for a post on a specific topic, please let me know! I didn’t even realize how valuable this kind of information would be until it was brought to my attention and I started writing (and writing.. and writing..)